ATHENS, Ga. — Coach Mark Richt isn’t sure when Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will be cleared medically to play, so he’s counting on Georgia’s entire group of receivers to fill the void.
It’s the second straight year the Bulldogs have had significant injuries at receiver. But as Richt sees it, if they made it through last season with record numbers, they can do it again.
“We have guys that already know what to do and how to do it,” Richt said. “They’re striving to perfect their trade as well.”
Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Reggie Davis are leading candidates to replace the production of Mitchell and Scott-Wesley if the pair isn’t ready for the Aug. 30 season opener with Clemson.
The Bulldogs weathered injuries throughout the offense last year, losing Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and former quarterback Aaron Murray before the win over Georgia Tech.
Despite those losses and a sprained ankle that sidelined star tailback Todd Gurley for three games, Georgia set a school record by averaging 484 yards of total offense.
“Ever since I’ve been here, guys have gone down and guys have stepped up,” said Bennett, a senior. “That’s just how it’s always been.”
Mitchell, a junior flanker who has eight touchdowns and an average of 14.6 yards on 85 career catches, is considered Georgia’s best receiver.
But he had arthroscopic surgery last Thursday to repair cartilage in his right knee and underwent reconstructive surgery on the same knee after last year’s opening loss at Clemson and missed the rest of the season.
Mitchell’s first arthroscopic procedure on his right knee was in April 2013. He also missed the 2012 opener and three games in 2011 when other injuries.
Richt has no timetable for his return, saying only that “he’s going to play when he’s healthy.”
Mitchell also missed nearly all of spring practice because of a left leg injury sustained in a non-contact drill. His last two right knee injuries have been in non-contact situations, too.
In 14 career games, Scott-Wesley has averaged 20.3 yards with three touchdowns on 22 catches. He tore an ACL last year at Tennessee and missed the rest of the season.
Scott-Wesley, a junior split end, has returned to practice and looks close to 100 percent, quarterback Hutson Mason told reporters, but it seems unlikely that he will be ready for Clemson. Richt gave him a one-game suspension for a misdemeanor marijuana arrest that followed Scott-Wesley’s injury last fall.
Bennett said he likes what he’s seen so far from true freshmen Isaiah McKenzie and Shakenneth Williams. Mason singled out senior Jonathon Rumph, a former junior college transfer.
Another receiver getting a long look is Brendan Langley, who changed positions after playing nine games at cornerback last year. Blake Tibbs is in the mix, too.
Even so, just six days into fall practice, Richt knows the receivers still have lots of work to do.
“We’re not hitting on all cylinders out there,” Richt said. “We’re not throwing and catching with total precision. You’ll see flashes of it being done exactly right, but then you’ll see a ball go astray or a route go just not right. We’re still not totally in sync, even with the veteran players, so that’s their challenge, to get to where we’re like a machine when we get to (the) Clemson (game).”